Herman Melville, once wrote, “Not till we know, that one grief outweighs ten thousand joys, will we become what Christianity is striving to make us.” I don’t know what Melville was thinking when he wrote those words. Perhaps he was remembering those words in the Wisdom Literature that “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting” because “the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Eccl. 7:2, 4). Or perhaps, he was thinking of this Beatitude.
Since the Beatitudes are pronounced in such a terse form, their full impact and the depth of their implications are not always immediately clear to us. Much has been written about this second Beatitude.
Some see it as merely a promise of comfort to those who experience grief. Others see a more spiritual dimension to it, specifically, a sense of grief or mourning over one’s sin.
It’s wise not to restrict its meaning to either of those possibilities, because there are different kinds of mourning referred to in Scripture. Obviously, there is that mourning that comes with the loss of a loved one. There is also that mourning of regret for what one has done, whereby, when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, we are profoundly saddened and moved to sorrow for having offended God.
But there is still another kind of mourning that is more broad in its application—a mourning brought upon people who suffer the pains of persecution. Jesus talked about suffering that comes as a direct result of being identified with Him. The children of God are children of mourning. In this, we are like our Master. Jesus was called “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). He mourned the loss of loved ones, as He did at Lazarus’ death, but we also see Jesus mourning over Jerusalem. He cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37; cf. Luke 13:34). Jesus was deeply grieved by all of the pain that He saw in this world and also by the force and power of wickedness in this world. He understood what it meant to be a mourner.
The Old Testament speaks of mourning in many places. In Ecclesiastes, we read that there’s a time to mourn (Eccl. 3:4). The Psalms contain many expressions of profound pain, particularly from the pen of David, such as when he cried, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (Ps. 6:6).
Israel’s history is that of a nation acquainted with suffering. Because of its location, Israel experienced great turbulence, as it was continually fought over. This tiny nation was a pawn in the many conflicts of the ancient world. It was a land marked with blood, pain, and suffering.
And yet, it was the Promised Land, the land that God gave to His people. So the people that He had called out from the world were a people acquainted with suffering. It was part of their national destiny. In their religious expectations, therefore, was the future promise of comfort.
In Luke 2, we find the narrative of Simeon. He was an elderly saint who had been given a promise by God: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:25–26). Simeon was not only just and devout; he was waiting for something—the consolation of Israel. This term does not refer simply to an event or an experience of comfort that the nation would enjoy. The “consolation of Israel” was understood to refer to a person. This is one of the little-known titles for Jesus in the Bible. The Messiah, who ministered to the poor, the wounded, and the grief stricken, is the embodiment of the Old Testament promises of God to His people that He would be their consolation. The Messiah in His ministry would bring comfort to those who mourn; He would bring rest to restless souls.
That’s the ministry of God to His people. He promises to heal their broken hearts and restore their souls. That is what is in view here in the second Beatitude. Not because mourning is a joyful occasion; Jesus was not diminishing the pain and grief that are associated with mourning. The reason we are blessed in mourning is because God’s people are promised the consolation of Israel. The pain is a blessing in disguise; blessed are those who mourn, because they shall be comforted by the consolation of God with us.
Everyone knows what grief and sorrow are; everyone has been to the house of mourning. Where will we go for comfort? What is our consolation? Jesus said to the people, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). These were the words of the consolation of Israel incarnate. That is the promise of Christ to all who look to Him in the midst of mourning.
R. C. Sproul, How Can I Be Blessed?, First edition., vol. 24, The Crucial Questions Series